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Look out the Window

November 14, 2016

“Don’t forget to look out the window.” This is the surprising profile signature of an airline pilot on an aviation forum. 

It struck me as strange, as even in an IFR, high flight level environment, you would think pilots still look out the window. Or do they? After flying becomes routine, do we not forget to appreciate the incredible beauty of flight – the wonderful sights that we see from up high?

I was reminded of this when I was fortunate enough to get a Learjet ride from Cape Town to Lanseria one evening. The flight deserves a whole 1,500 word column, but suffice for now to say that we took off after 19h00 local and it got dark around halfway to Lanseria. I settled back in the cabin with a cold beer and let the pilots get on with it. Then I looked out the window and saw lightning flashes. I moved forward and sat on the cooler box ‘jumpseat’ between the pilots and gazed through the cockpit windows in awe as the sky ahead filled with the eerie power of lightning flashing inside what must have been monstrous thunder clouds. The black sky lit up malevolently, as silent bolts of lightning shot across the clouds’ writhing interiors and to the ground. They glowed like a medieval vision of hell – flashing and swirling colours in a cosmic light show. It was a magnificent display and made me realise just how puny we were in our little aluminium tube whistling along at Flight Level 410.

For those not fortunate enough to get to gaze through the windscreens of a Learjet at night, the same choices exist on a routine airline flight. Do you take a window or aisle seat?

Some wit on social media wrote, “You know you’re grown up when you no longer want a window seat.” 

When we endure airlines on our frequent low cost carrier flights between Jo’burg and Cape Town, my wife normally tries to sweet talk the ground hostie into giving us seats across the aisle from each other. It’s easier to get in an out, and there’s more elbow room. But you don’t get to press your nose against the window. 

Whenever I do get a window seat, I’m invariably rewarded when I remember to look out. There doesn’t have to be extreme weather seen from a Learjet. It can be a fine weather flight, floating above giant balls of soft, fluffy cumulus. Or with the afternoon sun providing a shifting palette of colours: pink, crimson and ivory, all set off against a royal blue sky.

The world seems to make more sense from up high. Seeing the vast expanse of our Earth divided into neat patterns – chessboard fields giving way to endless plains rolling into the mountain foothills. Roads with toy cars racing – for what? 

It brings perspective to the messiness of everyday life.





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